Highlights of the great Swiss walks would have to include the views from the great passes which often bend perspective, like from the rocky portal of the Bundechrinde Pass, looking back to the great expanse of the Oeschinensee compressed into a hanging valley. The ice dripping peaks of Blumlisalp above them and yet somehow poking out beyond them, the great triptych of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Then there are those late afternoons, drinking a well-earned ‘Weissenbiere’ out on the hotel terrace above the Gental Valley. The clouds roll away to reveal the bulk of the Wetterhorn gold then pink in Alpenglow, mist dissolving around its frozen flanks, and yet even beyond that the Gspaltenhorn sits in a glowing haze.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
As you would expect, Switzerland is served by a number of airlines (low cost and otherwise), trains and buses from a multitude of European and international destinations. Depending on the region you are going to, we recommend heading to Geneva, Basil or Zurich, where you will find onward local connections.
GETTING AROUND IN SWITZERLAND
Switzerland has one of the most comprehensive (albeit expensive) and scenic public transport systems in the world, making it an ideal place for a walking holiday. While transport is fairly pricey and there are a number of discount cards for getting half price deals on Swiss rail, post buses and cable cars. However even these passes (the most useful being the Swiss Card) are quite an investment and you should take care to make sure whether you will not be out of pocket using them. This is particularly the case if you are a purist walker and don’t intend to use much public transport.
If buying a Swiss Card we would recommend buying them at the Swiss Travel Centres at the railway stations of the airports such as Zurich and Geneva when you arrive, so that you can discuss your needs in detail. The range of options is extensive and you want to make sure you get the right one to suit your specific travel plans.
WEATHER AND SEASONS IN SWITZERLAND
June is just about the best time of year for flowers, but a lot of the higher routes are often still closed by snow, however good stands of natural flowers can be found up to late July. By late July/August most of the flowers have gone to seed, died back or been scythed down for hay at least twice! There are some exceptions of course at different altitudes and with different species.
The early rule: Although walking departure times are more or less set by when your hotel starts breakfast, in normal stable weather conditions the earlier you start, the better will be your day, as convectional clouds and perhaps instability bubbles up usually from midday.
On a clear day attractions like the Jungfraujoch railway are said to be a must, and of course attract a premium price and a premium crowd. Always go early, the Swiss Card will always give you half price travel. However don’t go just because you feel you ought to if the weather is bad and you have little time. Fortunately these days, weather forecasting is particularly sophisticated and usually a hotelier will be able to tell you what the weather will be like.
There is a TV station on in most hotels (especially in the Bernese Oberland region) that will show you what it is like up all the popular lifts in real time. If there is nothing to see, it is not worth going unless you know from a forecast that it is just passing through.
On that note remember that Swiss weather has a variety of influences and may do anything over a couple of days, storms for example can be very localised between valleys etc.
FOOD AND DRINK IN SWITZERLAND
Food is very expensive in Switzerland, but apart from at a few basic hotels and mountain huts; most of the hotels do terrific buffet breakfasts with fantastic ‘Bircher Mueslis’ where the oats, nuts and fruits are soaked overnight in yoghurt. There are nearly always a selection of cheeses, pastries, breads and cured meats. So go early to breakfast, eat your fill, have a little rest and then start walking. You probably won’t want much or anything for lunch and this can save a load of money.
Conversely avoid trying to take breakfast materials for a packed lunch, it is the hallmark of bad manners as one person (not me I may add) was reprimanded by the landlady as she had costed the bread rolls between the guests to the nearest Franc! Remember that the ubiquitous nature of the breakfast may not be quite so ubiquitous when others reach the table.
Also, unlike in Britain and some other places, most Swiss hotels do not have kettles in the bedrooms. If you like your post walk cuppa and do not want to pay four francs for a cup, just bring a small container with your favourite teas and purchase a travel kettle or an element kettle with obviously an un-meltable cup e.g. the ‘Design Go Travel Cup Boiler 240 Volts’.
POPULAR WALKING ROUTES IN SWITZERLAND
Alpine Pass Route
The complete Alpine Pass Route extends east-west from the Liechtenstein border to Lake Geneva and is part of the classic trail the Via Alpina, which starts in Monaco and finishes in Trieste, describing a great arc through the Alps. The Alpine Pass Route takes you over some of the most beautiful passes in Switzerland with some seriously outstanding views. It is a challenging route with some long segments quite often on steep rocky paths and one day with 1400 metres of ascent and a similar descent. Great rewards though for the walker as you pass the great mountains of the Bernese Oberland including the Titlus, Wetterhorn, Shreckhorn, Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau, Blumisalpenhorn and Wildstrubel. For our Alpine Pass Route walking holidays we have selected the most spectacular central section between Engelberg above Lake Luzern and Lauenen above Gstaad. The Start at Engelburg is reached by train from Zurich/Basil/Geneva Via Lucerne. You can depart at the end from the train station in Saanen, near Gstaad.
Walker's Haute Route
The Haute Route (High Route) from Chamonix to Zermatt is steeped in mountaineering legend, a route first taken by British climbers at the end of the 19th century and is one of the best known winter ski tours in the world. Sherpa Expeditions offers a section of the walkers' version of the Haute Route located in the scenic Swiss canton of Valais and visits some of the most beautiful valleys, villages and mountains in Switzerland between Arolla and Zermatt.
This is a nine-day segment of the classic Haute route from Chamonix to Zermatt and is designed to avoid glacier sections and also extended backpacking, to make it easier for self-guided people. Another challenging walk with a pass even higher than anything on our Alpine Pass Route, the Col de Torrent 2918m, but not harder! Lots of rocky trails throughout beautiful meadows and apart from Zermatt, quiet villages. The start is in the small alpine village of Arolla accessed from Geneva by train and bus .The tour ends in Zermatt, travel to Geneva or Zurich by train.
The Wildstrubel Circuit is an eight-day loop around the Wildstrubel massif, where the trails apart from around the resort town of Kandersteg, are generally a lot quieter than most our alpine walks. This hike embraces the cantons of Bernese Oberland and Valais, dropping between German and French speaking villages. There is great scenic variety from high ice capped mountains to vast views across Valais Crans Montana. This is a moderate to challenging route, with some long days and once again big passes, sometimes following a high level irrigation canal path called ‘Bisse du Rou’. The climax of the week is the Rawyl Pass (2429m) under the Mittaghorn (2685m), which is the highpoint of the trek. Transport to and from Kandersteg via hourly train service to Zurich/Geneva changing en route in Bern.
The German speaking Bernese Oberland is magical region of classic Alpine landscapes, 3000-4000m high peaks, thundering rivers and waterfalls, hanging valleys and the longest glacier in Europe. It's location in the heart of Switzerland makes an ideal location for centre-based walking and Sherpa Expeditions offer a number of self-guided walking holidays here to help you get the most out of your time in the region. There are walks to suit all people as there is so much public transport that they can often be shortened using post buses or trains. Harder walks also exist, such as the ‘Eiger Trail’ or the ‘Schynige Platte’. It is an area of famous peaks with famous climbing histories, such as the Wetterhorn, Jungfrau and of course the notorious Eiger whose North wall - the ‘Nordwand’ - still exerts a huge pull and challenge to the best climbers in the World. Make sure you allow time to take the Jungfraujoch train up high onto the Monch and Jungfrau and walk under the ‘Nordwand’ of the Eiger as well as have a beer and pizza in Grindelwald watching the Alpenglow on the Shreckhorn. Meiringen is the hub of the Bernese Oberland and is easily accessed from Zurich or Basel, although Geneva is also a possibility.
This sits at the head of the Mattertal Valley in the canton of Valais. The Matta Vispa river running from the town is one of the tributaries of the River Rhone. It is right on the Swiss / Italian border, but separated by a huge wall of glaciers and mountains including the Briethorn, Matterhorn and Monte Rosa. Conditions tend to be a bit drier than the Bernese Oberland and the flora is slightly different. The town is hugely developed for tourism and just keeps growing. A whole range of trails radiate out from the high street and suburbs leading high into the mountains where you will find Mountain Ibex and the occasional Chamois. Arriving and departing from Zermatt is done by a picturesque train ride via Geneva/Zurich/Basel etc. via Visp or Brig. Our Bernese Oberland and Reichenbach Falls guided/self-guided walking holidays combine the Bernese Oberland with walks in Zermatt.
Sherpa Expeditions offers a range of guided and self guided walking holidays in Switzerland to suit all experience levels and interests. For more information on these trips visit our Switzerland Walking Holidays page.